‘Gremlins’ keep Dale Earnhardt Jr. from competitive Coke Zero 400

(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

For the third restrictor-plate race in a row, Dale Earnhardt Jr. factored into the outcome by not being a factor at all.

The four-time winner at Daytona International Speedway never appeared in the top five after starting 16th in Saturday’s Coke Zero 400 and eventually finished 21st.

But at least he finished.

Earnhardt had three plate race wins (not counting exhibition events) in the last two seasons with the now famously named chassis “Amelia.” But the defending Coke Zero 400 winner had failed to finish the Daytona 500 or the May Talladega race after wrecking on his own in each race.

Earnhardt was once again seen as a favorite entering Saturday night, but the driver tweeted Sunday that “gremlins” kept his No. 88 Chevrolet from being able to compete in the larger draft and leading to a “miserable night.”

Earnhardt’s effort wasn’t helped when he received minor damage from the Lap 90 crash that included 22 cars.

With Saturday night’s result, Earnhardt has failed to finish in the top 1o in eight of the last nine races. He finished second at Pocono Raceway. However, Earnhardt was the highest-placing Hendrick Motorsports driver in the race. Chase Elliott (32nd) and Jimmie Johnson (35th) were eliminated in the Lap 90 crash. Kasey Kahne, who was also involved, finished 30th, 38 laps down.

With nine races left before the start of Chase for the Sprint Cup, Earnhardt is currently 13th in the points standings, 30 above the cutoff for the Chase.

Earnhardt and his team now hope they can turn their season around next Saturday at Kentucky Speedway. In his five starts at the 1.5-mile track that was repaved earlier this year, Earnhardt has two top fives (2012, 2014) and one pole (2013).